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The Classified Ad

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Every year, for an unknown number of years, an ad has been published in the New York Times Classifieds section. The advertisement is short and lists a seemingly mundane household appliance: a refrigerator, a vacuum, a piece of furniture. A select number of people in the U.S., and indeed the world, search for this advertisement, which contains three keywords seemingly unusual for a simple ad. Once found, these people wait exactly one week for a second ad in the NY Times, also ostensibly a normal–if strangely worded–ad, but combined with the first, provide both a code key and message.

The code, when completed, is a series of numbers, which correspond to the Washington, D.C. Yellow Pages, and page number, column, letter number, etc., and this in turn creates a text message. The text of the message is vague, but contains the following information: soon, a gathering will be held in Washington, D.C. The searchers are instructed to bring a fellow guest to accompany him/her to the gathering. The destination is a very old hotel in Georgetown, an establishment dating back to the time of the founding fathers.

Sometimes searchers are instructed to bring a scientist, such as a physicist or biologist. Other years the instructions are to bring along an engineer or a doctor; the requested person is always a professional of some kind.

The seekers and their guests are admitted to the restaurant on the appointed night only after giving a password, also in the message, to the masked maitre’d waiting at the entrance. What follows after that is unclear and there are conflicting accounts. The general consensus is that the seekers are rewarded for solving the puzzle, and are made wealthy for the rest of their lives, provided they remain silent about what they discovered. The fate of the professionals is unknown.